An Explosive Moment in Time
October 1957…I had been a clerk typist at Castle Air Force base in northern California for eight months. This was a B-52 Air Force bomber flight crew training base. In spite of my having tested high in electronic abilities, the Air Force needed help to process the bombing maps that pilots, navigators and bombardiers produced while practicing mock bombing drills as they flew over various unpopulated areas of the country. So they packed me off to clerk typist school and then to Castle. The B-52 was seen at the time as the most potent weapon of the cold war.
Then suddenly everything changed. The Russians launched Sputnik in October of that year. This small satellite that suddenly was circling the globe sending its constant “beep beep beep” down into the American soul, created the American “Sputnik crisis” and triggered the Space Race, a part of the larger Cold War.
The launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. The Air Force was in a tearing rush to catch up and personnel from all over the globe were being re-assigned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California near the flower capital of the state, Lompoc, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
I was one of those pulled out of one weapon related effort to go to work in another weapon related effort. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and rockets that would be designed to launch our own satellites into space to catch up with the Russians. Yeah, that effort needed clerks also.
The mighty Thor rocket was the missile of choice for a long time and I recall one night about a half dozen of we enlisted men stood on the balcony of our barracks watching the lift off of a rocket.
It rose majestically into the dark, its flames eclipsing the stars, the thunder of its engines vibrating our bones. But, wait, something was wrong! Instead of continuing on a straight line up, the rocket veered off to one side, then veered off in the opposite direction. Twice more it erratically traced a fiery twisted course across the heavens and we all knew this could be very bad for our health if it decided to turn down.
Before it could change again though, launch control hit the destruct button. There was a huge, silent blossom of an explosion in the sky in a brilliant blast of yellow, red and orange, as the missile was blown into small pieces over the Pacific ocean.
The explosion hung silently in the sky for what seemed like a long time and then came the sound, finally reaching the ground, a monstrous crashing, explosive boom reverberated and then all was silence again. Back to the drawing boards for the engineers and scientists.